Thursday, August 09, 2012

Advocacy - Central Park Scoflaws!

At the supermarket just now I couldn't help but notice this on the front page of the Daily News, an article about the dangerous speeding cyclists in Central Park ("Fast and Furious in Central Park"). They point out that in 30 minutes they clocked 16 cyclists going faster than 25 mph with one of them hitting 30 mph! (exclamation mark theirs).

I thought about this on the drive home (I saw the headline on the way out). First off I think that if they set up a similar "speed trap" on the West Side Drive or on the FDR they'll find plenty of cars going well over the speed limit, either 5 mph (pure speed) or 25% over the posted limit (kinetic energy?). I know that the flow of traffic is sometimes 70 mph on the FDR and the posted limit is 50 mph I think. The West Side is tighter and has lower speed limits but you wouldn't know that - even I avoided that side when I could, and I don't mind driving along a twisty road with narrow lanes.

I should commend NYC though. Seriously. The 25 mph speed limit seems pretty good - it's a realistic speed that is "fast" for normal people. I noticed this with some of NY State's speed limits - when they mark a corner "50 mph", it means that unless you know the curve it really is 50 mph, and even if you know it but you're driving a heavily laden van, 50 mph is the limit.

Here in Connecticut they put low speed limits on the road. A 25 mph exit ramp means 40 mph. Even the top dog of the DOT admitted, in not so many words, that those posted limits are not set in stone, they're more like suggestions when the weather gets worse. Or something like that.

(Of course when you put a Connecticut driver on unfamiliar New York roads you get some interesting stuff going on. I loved going into known-to-me New York exit ramps with a Connecticut driver tailgating me like it was the last lap of the Daytona 500. When I take a good line, do a nice late apex, I'll look in the mirror as the car behind me slows and almost plows into the guardrail.)

The same goes for bicycle speed limits in Connecticut. On the trails around here it's 12 mph (I heard it's higher in spots but I have no proof) and they enforce them sporadically but strictly with ATV-mounted patrols. Fines apparently run close to $100. Yikes, right?

At any rate 12 mph is very slow on a bike, at least on level ground. I can't sustain that up Palomar Mountain but on a normal road bike it'll go about that fast with barely any input to the pedals.

What's 25 mph? What's 30 mph? How's it affect safety (because that's the main concern)? Stopping distance is very similar between the two speeds and a rider can swerve to avoid someone too.

The key here is that it's a bicycle and not a car. With a modern car you slam the brake pedal to the floor, steer where ever you see a gap, and the car will do whatever it can to help you accomplish your desired trajectory.

Bicycles... they have to be finessed. A skilled rider can do amazing things on a bike. A less skilled one can do just as amazing things, just in a negative way.

I get into regular debates about holding the bars on the hoods or the drops or the tops. I don't use tri bars but that would be an additional factor.

Hand position is critical to bike control. Let's face it, 25 mph on the tops isn't that great because it'll take half a second to get to the brakes, more if you're sitting really far upright and need to get your torso down to reach the drops.

On the other hand 25 mph on the drops and I think only an unskilled rider would hit something acting reasonable on the road, i.e. a pedestrian, a jogger, etc, traveling in some reasonable manner. A dog that darts out from behind a person, maybe not so good.

It got me thinking of the time I parked my car in NYC. I saw the parking rules sign on the post but for the life of me I couldn't interpret them. No parking during business hours, parking on Sat and Sun, but not during certain days, etc etc etc.

I couldn't follow the logic (and I'm usually good at word/logic problems) so I stopped a parking ticket cop to see if it was okay to park there, at that time, for about an hour.

The cop looked up at the sign, squinted, and read.

Thought about it for a bit.

"Yeah, you're fine here."

I think he meant "You're going to be fined here" because when I returned to the car I had some astonishing $ parking ticket, courtesy the NYPD.

Anyway, I thought of that because a speed limit on a bike is really dependent on the rider and their riding position. I think the law ought to read something like this:

"The speed limit for bicycles is 25 mph if you're on a regular road bike on the hoods. It's 30 mph if you're on the drops; 20 mph if you're on the tops; 21 mph if you're on the tops and you have cyclocross cheater levers; 14 mph if you have the old fashioned safety levers; 16 mph if you're on tri type aero bars; 12 mph if those tri type aero bars have brake levers on them; 17 mph if you're on a fixie (regardless of hand position); 25 mph if you're on a fixie but you can do a stoppie, a slidy, or you have a brake on the bike; 30 mph if you're a bike messenger (gotta pay rent); 27 mph if you're on a mountain bike; 29 mph for BMX bikes; 20 mph for coaster brake bikes; 16 mph for 3 speeds with steel caliper brakes; reduce speeds by 30% if it's raining lightly, 10% if it's raining heavily; reduce speeds by 20% if it's snowing and icy; 5% if it's snowy but not icy; 50% if it's straight ice; 15% if it's fall and there are leaves on the ground; increase speed limit by 20% where the horses poop on the road (no pedestrians and everyone wants to get out of there quickly); if there is a child on a 20" wheel bike then reduce by 30%, 16" wheel bike 50%, and 12" wheel bike 75".

I think that's perfectly clear and it's fair and should be reasonably safe.


MajorMantra said...

Seems perfectly clear to me.

Loren said...

Most of the bike trails in Minneapolis - St. Paul are stenciled with 10 mph limits on the pavement. Fortunately, no one seems to enforce that low limit.

Let me take this opportunity to express my appreciation of your blog. It is informative and entertaining. As a 2nd year racer, now cat 4., I learn things reading your blog.

As a 55 year old father myself, I rejoice at the joy you and the Missus have created with Junior. The times you will have!

Aki said...

I understand the need for low speeds on the trails. For example if I were taking Junior out for a ride I wouldn't want some guy on aero bars, head down, barreling down at us at 30 mph. Or worse, as a rider around here admitted, "testing out" his track bike with no brakes (and no messenger "skidding" skills).

At the same time it's generally a safer place to ride, no cars, no worries of a 3000 lbs (or more likely a 4000 lbs SUV) barreling past at 40-55 mph in 25-35 mph posted areas.

I'm glad you get a lot out of the blog. It's difficult to keep it going at times. It's definitely a chore, it requires (at least to me) a lot of thought, but I feel an obligation to write much of this stuff. It's also good because people outside my circle will call me on things and keep my head on straight.

We're really enjoying Junior, he's been fantastic. We love him like crazy, I just hope we parent him well.